Whitman is representative of an emerging Republican type — what you might call the austerity caucus. Flamboyant performers like Sarah Palin get all the attention, but the governing soul of the party is to be found in statehouses where a loose confederation of über-wonks have become militant budget balancers. Just as welfare reformers of the 1990s presaged compassionate conservatism, so the austerity brigades presage the national party’s next chapter.

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana who I think is most likely to win the G.O.P. presidential nomination in 2012, is the spiritual leader. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is the rising star. Jeb Bush is the eminence. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rob Portman, a Senate candidate in Ohio, also fit the mold.

These are people who can happily spend hours in the budget weeds looking for efficiencies. They’re being assisted by budget experts from the Hoover Institution, the Manhattan Institute and freelancers like Bob Grady, who did budgeting in George H.W. Bush’s administration. Members of the caucus have a similar sense of the role history has assigned them. “This state had a party for 10 years and I’m the guy who got called in to clean up the mess,” Christie says.